Melvil Dewey created the Dewey Decimal system, established the first school for instruction of librarians, and was one of the founders of the American Library Association. But in June, the ALA voted to strip his name from the ALA's annual award for "creative leadership of high order." Why? The ALA cited Dewey's racism, antisemitism, and serial harassment of women. Although the decision to strip his name from the award is new, it wasn't based on a modern view of Dewey's behavior.
Dewey owned a private club in New York that expressly excluded Jews and African-Americans. When that policy was publicized, Dewey received a public rebuke from the New York State Board of Regents, and ultimately resigned his position as State Librarian in 1905. Around that same time, he was also censured by the ALA for his serial harassment of women:
several women complained about his improper behavior toward them—including unwanted kissing, hugging, and caressing in public. Dewey's daughter-in-law even moved out of his home because she was uncomfortable around him.
Reports, allegations, and an investigation of Dewey's inappropriate and offensive behavior directed at women continued for decades after his departure from ALA. In 1930, he paid $2,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former secretary alleging sexual harassment.
In an understatement, the Library of Congress simply notes, "His legacy is complex."
Slate has much more on Dewey's history, including the problematic nature of the Dewey Decimal System itself.
(Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.)